By James Ross Kelly
I hadn’t been home long enough to take a shower when there came a pounding on the door. I knew only too well who it was:he was the last person in the world I wanted to see. I answered the door.
“Ah, Heartache, my old friend,” I said, “come in, you son of a bitch, come on in and make yourself at home. You know your way around. There’s beer in the refrigerator. I got to grab a shower.”
He didn’t say a word, but he headed for the Hotpoint refrigerator next to the Frigidaire gas stove. I got in the shower and washed off the grime from the roofing job I’d hated for the last month.
One more week and that would be done. Then, hopefully, the rains would start. I’d be off with unemployment checks until an editing job promised me turned up in January. In the meantime, I could get some of my own writing done without worrying about the wolves at the door.
This guy and his friends, however, were worse than wolves. I got out of the shower, dried off,wrapped a towel around my waist, walked through the bathroom door, and there he was, with his feet propped on my coffee table watching the six o’clock news. He had gone through one sixteen ouncer. He annoyingly belched and then gargled with the last bit of the first beer as he was opening the second one. I’d been expecting him but I had hoped he’d gone back to California where he belonged.
“Looking kind of down in the mouth,” I said.
“Been with that bitch Self-Pity again, haven’t you?” I said.
“You sick bastard, we all know how she treats you!” I said.
I went back to my bedroom. I finished drying my hair and put on some shorts and an old Hawaiian shirt. Then I hit the fridge and zipped open a tall boy for myself. I just sat there, eyeing the tube with as much attention and chagrin at the commercials as Heartache gave David Muir. I wanted him out of the apartment, but felt a strange premonition that he needed to be there. Then there came another knocking at the door.
I answered and there he stood: Misery, in Friday night togs, looking like an escapee from a disco pogrom from decades ago.
“Yeah, I might have known it would be you,” I said as I opened the door.
“Come in; it seems I’ve got some company you’re gonna love. The beers are where they stay cold.”
It wasn’t three minutes before there I was, with both of them on my couch, drinking my beer.
After a round like this two months ago, I’d gotten into a card game, then behind on the cable bill, and there would be no football until I went back to work in January.
I brought out a can of oily sardines and a bag of chips before they got around to yelling for food. I’d scarcely gotten the hosting job done when a banging started at the back door.
“Who the hell could this be now?” I said out loud.
I made my way back through the rubble of beer cans on the back porch with its idle fishing poles and the washing machine that never worked, and there he was—his left shoulder facing me, looking up into the sky at the bright, almost neon, October twilight with its bright, changing colors that were solemnly turning gray—and there he was.
“Loneliness, you bastard,” I grumbled. “At least you brought beer.”
I made my way back into the apartment, Loneliness shuffling in behind me.
“Look who’s here, boys,” I yelled.
I went for another one of my beers. I knew Loneliness brought the cheapest beer money can buy, but at least he brought some. Every three months, with the change of the seasons, it seemed he abandoned whatever twelve-step he was in and ended back on my back porch with the cheap beer. I made my way into the living room. They all were making a lot of noise without saying anything.
Now Heartache was whining about Self-Pity and whether she was going make it back into town.
“That’s all I need,” I said out loud, “is to have her show up tonight.”
I made a mental note not to let her in if she did. When I discovered that there was nowhere to sit, I took to the floor in front of the tube. They’d switched on a two-month-old golf tournament where a football game should have been, so I knew it was going to be a bad night. Then I heard the door begin to bang. I didn’t move, but it got louder and louder. I let it bang, and they all began to grumble.
“Go away, you bitch!” I yelled.
“Answer the damn door!” said Loneliness. Heartache got up expectantly to answer the door, thinking it might be her. He’d been dating her for three years; each time it would last a couple weeks to a month, then she’d jilt him again, and here he would be.
“SIT YOUR ASS DOWN! We don’t have enough beer. The last time all four of us were together, she came in a mini-skirt all hiked-up with torn ass nylons, and she brought whiskey, and her nice tits, and the two of you got in a fist fight and tore this place to pieces after only about thirty minutes.”
Loneliness thought he heard a woman’s voice from the front porch. “Let me in!” she said.
“SHUT UP! GO AWAY!” I screamed.“If I let you in, all your demons will come, too! Get off my damn doorstep, you bitch!”
“She’ll go away eventually,” I said as I turned my back on the door.
I got back to the golf tournament. There were eighteen beers left in the fridge. I began to drink peacefully in my empty room.